I’m intrigued by recent outcries against what is being called the “slobification of America.” I have to agree many people don’t appear to have a lot of pride in casual attire. It isn’t uncommon to see airport travelers or mall shoppers in pajama bottoms and slippers. Neither is mingling at a social event with someone wearing pants that are too long and drag on the ground, with a frayed hem that looks like it’s been put through a grinder. There may be a brief light at the end of the tunnel however, as it appears women who wear “low rise” jeans finally have sought out longer shirts to cover what has become the muffin-top epidemic. So if it’s tough to look decent in everyday life, imagine the challenges one encounters in the workforce.
I teach at an all-female college and the attire students wear to classes is diverse. It’s all dependent on if they’ve just rolled out of their dorm room, if they’re on their way to an internship or on their way to volleyball practice. Because it’s a classroom, it’s a more forgiving atmosphere. That isn’t always the case in a corporate environment.
This week the career development office hosted a mock interview session for undergraduates. I was interested to find out what hiring businesses prefer as interview attire, as I volunteer with a scholarship organization for young women ages 18-24, and see what that group chooses to wear for interviews. Recently what I’ve witnessed isn’t business dress; it’s more of a business casual that, with a change of an accessory, can turn into an after-six outfit. For their interviews, those young women tend to choose clothing that are short skirted, sleeveless dresses or off-the-shoulder dresses or fitted separates with lots of accessories and platform heeled shoes. Although it’s current and trendy, it’s very different from traditional business dress.
As I spoke with the college’s director of career development prior to the mock interviews, she explained there is typically disconnect between what students think is fashionable and what companies want to see their prospective employees wearing. She said these hiring managers often comment that the candidates “need to wear a jacket.” It appears that even though Vogue and Marie Claire dictate fashion elements, those who hire would rather not see their candidate’s bare arms. It’s an interesting conundrum for the college-aged females.
Picture the Sunday clothing advertisements. Open any one of them and there is a wide gap in what is advertised as business dress for men and women. Menswear features suits, sport coats and dress slacks with a crisp shirt and complementary tie. Womenswear focuses on dresses and figure-hugging separates. Some models look ready to enter a nightclub rather than a boardroom. It’s not to say that you can’t be fashionable or trendy once you have the job, but just how much can one get away with when interviewing? And should you even try?
There’s an Eight O’Clock Coffee television commercial that shows a young female in a company lobby, waiting for an interview. She wears a fitted top and short skirt, and interacts with a male candidate who is dressed in a suit. When the female hiring manager, who is outfitted in a stylish, charcoal gray skirted suit, blouse and sensible heels, comes to the lobby the interviewer doesn’t want to put down her cup of coffee. At the end of the commercial, the interviewer is sitting in front of a desk, still sipping her coffee, while the hiring manager is calmly putting her resume through the shredder.
It’s obvious someone did not get the job and will not be hired at that company. In that first impression, the female candidate also didn’t dress like she wanted to belong, not to mention her coffee faux pas.
In a world where women are still trying to break into or break apart long-standing and sometimes iron-clad Old Boys’ Clubs, wearing an interview outfit that doesn’t convey professionalism, business acumen and self-assurance can be detrimental. Of the same age, male candidates are usually referred to as “men” while the women are “girls.” And if that girl is wearing a short skirt and tight blouse, she’s not promoting her intelligence.
Wardrobe is all part of the communication process and understanding a company and its environment is important. While it may seem ridiculous to buy one classic suit to wear just for interviews, the price of looking professional in order to receive an offer and a career is worth the cost to show you’re no longer a member of the Girls’ Club.
* Eight O’clock Coffee may want to rethink their marketing messages. After all, if drinking their coffee will cause you to be fired or eliminated from job consideration, you may want to stick with Folgers.